DURHAM, N.C. – Freshman John Kunemund knows that life on campus at Duke University will include being exposed to alcohol — whether or not he is the one doing the drinking.
"The administrators have to keep a check on students, because if the students can just do whatever they want, I'm sure alcohol will be brought anywhere," said Kunemund, an 18-year-old from Jacksonville, Fla.
The start of the academic year is reviving the debate over alcohol's place on campus: How much can — and should — a school do to monitor students' drinking habits? And how much responsibility lies with students, many of them away from home for the first time?
The debate got plenty of attention at Duke in the spring, when three members of the men's lacrosse team were charged with assaulting a stripper at an alcohol-soaked team party off campus.
But it's an issue for schools across the country, not just this elite private school in central North Carolina.
"Almost every problematic student behavior issue has at its roots the overconsumption of alcohol," said Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the Washington-based American Council on Education, a higher-education lobbying group that lists Duke among its membership of 1,800 accredited colleges and universities. "There are lots of approaches, and schools apply them all. ... Yet the reality is that when a student becomes excessively intoxicated, all the instruction they may have had rapidly disappears."
Schools have tried a variety of remedies.
According to a study published in 2004 by the Harvard School of Public Health, 34 percent of colleges surveyed two years earlier said alcohol was not permitted on campus for students of any age, while 43 percent banned alcohol in campus residence halls. And at least 11 of 70 national fraternities have banned alcohol in their campus houses.
The Harvard study also found that 81 percent of administrators at four-year colleges described drinking as a problem or a major problem on their campus -- up from 68 percent in a similar 1999 study.
The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville tried educational programs and events, joined by police increasing enforcement efforts and a series of community anti-drinking messages, but the school still had a rash of alcohol-related deaths last year.
At Virginia's College of William and Mary, a Psi Upsilon chapter was evicted from campus housing this year for allowing underage drinking and violating campus drug policies.
In May, researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine released a study of 10,000 students at 10 North Carolina universities that found members or pledges of fraternities and sororities were twice as likely to get drunk at least once per week as non-Greek students. Female pledges and sorority members who got drunk weekly were more than twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as non-Greeks who didn't get drunk weekly.
Steinbach noted that courts have moved away from the notion that colleges are de facto parents for students, with most recent decisions finding that schools are limited in their ability to regulate student behavior outside school hours and off campus.
Still, Amy George, a spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, believes colleges must "have the strongest policies possible."
"They absolutely have the obligation to students and the community to provide the safest environment possible," George said.
Prompted by a party-school reputation and a student's alcohol- and drug-related death, the University of Georgia this year is requiring that underage students caught drinking be placed on probation — and that their parents be notified. A second offense during probation leads to a two-semester suspension.
Georgia also is requiring freshmen to complete an online alcohol education course before they can register for spring classes.
"We're not trying to kill people's fun. We want the students to be healthy, safe and legal," said Dr. Pat Daugherty, assistant vice president for student affairs.
Duke has not announced any formal changes to its alcohol education policies for this year.
The issue puts schools in a balancing act, trying to foster responsibility while allowing young adults their freedom.
"The rules should not be made with an eye toward what's going to end up in newspaper coverage or what parents are going to call and complain about," said Duke sophomore Jim Davy, 19, of Pennington, N.J. "The big thing is, teach students to be responsible and promoting responsible habits you'll have now and for the rest of your life."